The Turnout Factor
Between the 2006 and 2008 elections, nearly one million people tuned out of federal politics. You won't hear any of the parties boasting about this, but all three of the major national parties -- the New Democrats, the Liberals and yes, even the Conservatives, lost voters.
Stark numbers, in terms of total ballots cast:
2006: 14,908,703 or 64.7 per cent of eligible ballots
2008: 13,929,093, or 58.8 per cent of eligible ballots
Liberals were, by far, the biggest losers in this decline, seeing their total vote drop by 846,230 votes, or 18 per cent.
Conservatives and New Democrats, on the other hand, lost only around 3 per cent of their total votes.
What does this mean in terms of an election campaign that could come as soon as this week?
For the Liberals, it means persuading people that voting matters -- apathy is as big an enemy for the party as the Conservatives are. When you lose nearly a million ballots between elections, not to other parties, but merely to a shrug, your biggest task is to shake support off the couches of the nation. The Conservatives and the New Democrats need an engaged electorate simply to make gains, but both parties are more focused, strategically, on the specific ridings -- even the specific polls, I'm told -- where they need folks to show up at the ballot box.
One million votes can make a huge difference and in close races, defining differences. It's worth remembering that Julian Fantino only won the Vaughan by-election late last year with less than 1,000 votes over his Liberal rival. Anyone who was watching CPAC's live-camera coverage of Fantino's campaign headquarters on by-election night (I admit it: I was one of them) could see those bitten nails. If that's a portent of how a general election works, watch for all parties to be paying close attention to the turnout factor.